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Advocacy: Educate and Enlighten

Submitted by Nancy McClellan-Hickey, Executive Director

Over the years I have noticed many different reactions to advocacy. It has become apparent that some people are made for it – they love it. They excel at it. Others know the importance of it and will take part how ever they are comfortable.  Some like to talk directly to decision makers, some like to write, others call, and some live for the demonstration. Yet others feel awkward about advocacy. One consumer’s parents said they didn’t “want him out making trouble, like a hippie.” Advocacy, to them, meant holding signs and chanting or publicly shaming people.  Advocacy is simply defined as promoting /supporting. In the case of access, that is more often than not, done by educating.

We all have our priorities; they differ from person to person. You need the person you are advocating with to either insert your priority into his or move it up in his list.    How do you do that? Educating is often a way that shortcuts the whole process. Very often the “average Joe” has no disability experience, or what experience they do have is very limited. He simply doesn’t see what you see about the situation. The best advocate I ever knew told me she just talked about bare necessities: the need for the change. She believed in the basic good of people and if they understood, “they will want to do the right thing.” She was moving her need up in their priorities through enlightenment.

One of my early experiences was years ago when a consumer called and said he had reached the point with his landlord that the landlord would not take his calls any longer. The consumer wanted the landlord to scoop the snow from the sidewalk so he could get to his car…not an out of line request, so how was there a problem?  First of all, the landlord wasn’t scooping until later in the day but the consumer needed to get to work. So the consumer called and left messages, and the landlord eventually started scooping earlier. Still, he was getting messages from the consumer. That was about the time he got fed up and quit responding at all. The consumer was just trying to point out that the pathway was not wide enough for his wheelchair.  It was a nice clear walkway for those who walk, but the landlord wasn’t considering the use of the wheelchair. We wrote a letter from PACE with the need for wider walk way and a thank you for the effort already put forth. After the letter, the landlord started scooping a wider path and everyone was content. The landlord did do the right thing – once he understood.

You see, sometimes advocacy is simply about increasing the public’s understanding. Encouraging them to change their perspective and consider the need. It really can be as simple as that.

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